Tree Climbing Adventures

My story  about a unique high-rise sport and the young entrepreneurs who own it was featured prominently in the Citizen business pages.

TREE CLIMBING ADVENTURE GIVES YOU THE VIEW FROM THE TOP

By Laurie McBurney

Diversify, diversify, diversify is the mantra of the 90’s, whether it concerns your stock portfolio or your business. Two young entrepreneurs in Cumberland have found a way to do just that while simultaneously introducing a cutting edge sport to eastern Ontario.

Anne and Victor DaSilva are the owners of Upper Canada Arborists, a successful tree care business. In operation for just three years now, the company grew by 500 per cent in the aftermath of 1998’s ice storm. While removing a particularly awkward ice-damaged tree for client Lana Burpee, Mr. DaSilva happened to mention an intriguing activity he learned of through colleagues in the tree care industry — recreational tree climbing. It’s the ideal offshoot from the arborist trade — a business that would take advantage of the skills and knowledge Mr. DaSilva already gained through 14 years in the field — and one that is unique in Ontario, if not Canada. Since trees can be climbed in any weather, it would also allow the DaSilvas to expand their mostly seasonal business year around and enable them to employ their trained staff on a permanent basis.

Ms. Burpee, a marketing consultant dubbed “the idea queen” by Mr. DaSilva, saw the potential of the sport immediately.

“I saw features in recreational tree climbing you only wish for in most products. It is huge fun; it is appealing across a wide range of age groups; the activity is not bound by a site, it’s very portable and it can be very simple or very involved depending on what the client wants,” she says.

Recreational tree climbing is just starting to take off as a sport in North America. A quick check of the Internet reveals a couple of webpages designed by hard-core “tree surfers” who live much like the surfers of the sixties. However, instead of travelling the world in search of the perfect wave, tree surfers haunt the wilds looking for stands of tall trees with broad, leafy canopies. There are harrowing stories “bark bites” suffered while slamming into tree trunks and branches, but also tales of the stunning bird’s eye views enjoyed while swaying from the topmost branches of some of the highest trees on the continent. The DaSilva’s new company, Tree Climbing Adventures, Inc., offers the opportunity to experience the thrill without the attendant dangers.

Adults and children who have experienced the excitement of climbing as offered by the DaSilvas learn quickly and easily how to get their feet off the ground. After buckling the arborist “saddle” around hips and thighs, strapping on the helmet and clipping their caribiners onto the climbing line hanging from the tree, the climber is ready to go. The climb is accomplished by using a self-belay technique to raise the body by sliding knots known as a “Blake hitch” and a “Prusik knot” up a climbing line. When the knots are weighted they do not slide; when unweighted, they can slip up and down the rope.

The technique and equipment are very similar to those used by professional arborists. “Climbing is climbing. It doesn’t matter whether it’s recreational or not,” says Mr. DaSilva.

To ascend, the climber sits back in the saddle; secures the Prusik cord around one foot and slides it up the climbing line as far as possible. The climber then stands straight up (which holds the Prusik knot in place and creates slack in climbing line) and pushes the chest-high Blake Hitch up the climbing line. By repeating the process, the climber will gradually ascend the tree. Once up the tree, climbers can limb walk, hang upside down or just enjoy the view. The DaSilvas will also offer tree-surfing (travelling from tree to tree) and treetop camping to experienced participants.

“I had a little difficulty co-ordinating it at first, but after two minutes I was just flying. I went right up to the top of the tree,” says Sarah Fabbro, 14. Sarah climbed a 50-foot maple in Ottawa’s Minto Park during a demonstration event put on by Tree Climbing Adventures a few weeks ago.

“The first time I did it, I struggled a little bit, but once I got the basics, I did fine,” reports City of Nepean recreation supervisor Mary Lyn MacKay. Ms. MacKay climbed with a group during the Tree Climbing Adventures “coming out party” at Nepean’s Log Farm in late April. She estimates she reached the height of three-storey house. “At first I felt a little nervous and thought ‘my Lord, I’m high.’ Once I got over the barrier of fear I felt so much better. I stayed in the tree for two hours,” says Ms. MacKay, who eventually swung upside down from the ropes and calls the experience “a mini-risk without being unsafe.”

Getting Ms. MacKay up a tree is an example of the savvy marketing that is resulting in increased business for the company. The adventure at the Log Farm earned the DaSilvas a summer-long contract with the Nepean Parks and Recreation Department. In a good example of doubling your publicity efforts, the DaSilvas chose the tall maples in Ottawa’s Minto Park as a filming location while being interviewed on a local television show. As well as the TV exposure, the very public spot on Elgin Street in downtown Ottawa drew a lot of walk-by business and some very intrigued bystanders.

The Minto Park event also impressed Brian Smith, Ottawa’s city arborist, who gave Tree Climbing Adventures permission to use the trees. Mr. Smith has 25 years experience in the trade, and says the methods used by the DaSilvas are not harmful to the trees. In addition, he says the climb and the accompanying educational activities encourage young people to understand the ecological value of trees.

“I find the more we make young people aware of trees and what they do for us, the less vandalism there is. Anytime [the DaSilvas] require a tree for climbing and I can find a suitable one, I’m happy to help out,” he says.

Seeking out more “permanent site partners” such as Mr. Smith is included in the company’s five year plan. The equipment used for the sport is completely portable, and Tree Climbing Adventures can come to the client if that’s preferred. “Part of our marketing strategy is to take the activity to fairs, special events and lots of public locations. We certainly don’t want it to take place in the rural areas all the time. We’d like to have well-maintained trees located in various areas,” says Ms. DaSilva.

As well as site partners, the DaSilvas also hope to attract corporate clients to Tree Climbing Adventures, Inc., selling it as a team building experience which doesn’t require participants to be extremely fit to succeed. There’s even an attraction for those who don’t feel like strapping on a saddle.

“[Tree climbing] is so visual — it’s a thrill to watch even if you don’t go up yourself,” says Ms. Burpee.

Ms. DaSilva agrees. “A strong feature of our business is that it is truly unique. There is no way groups have ever done this before. If people want to attract attention to their charity or company at a special event, a tree climbing adventure is one way to do it,” she says.

Branching out seems to be a good decision for the DaSilvas. Their only concern is keeping their businesses at a size which allows them to maintain that personal touch. “It would be easy to let ourselves grow big and nasty. We’re trying to take it slow and see how it grows,” says Ms. DaSilva.

SIDEBAR:

Recreational Tree Climbing Adventures, Inc. can be reached by phone at (613) 833-0240 or by fax at (613) 833-0865. Activities and costs are tailored to meet your needs. Educational and ecological games for young people can be included. Professional, arborist-trained staff will travel to your site or groups are welcome to use the company’s permanent sites. People of any age from eight and up and any physical ability can enjoy the tree top experience.

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